Our Staff

Rock Heyman, MD

Dr. Heyman is an Associate Professor of Neurology, Director of the PIMSCAR at UPMC, and Chief of the Division of Neuroimmunology and MS at the University of Pittsburgh. He completed his medical school training at Ohio State University in 1985 and then completed his neurology residency in 1989 and fellowship training in 1990, both at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Dr. Heyman’s interests include education and treatment of people with MS. He is board-certified in Neurology and is also a Fellow of the American Board of Sleep Medicine. He has held many national leadership positions with the National MS Society (NMSS) and the Consortium of MS Centers. He enjoys working with people with MS and related disorders to help them find the best way to improve their function.

Islam Zaydan, MD

Dr. Zaydan is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Ophthalmology. He completed his medical school training at Alexandria University in Alexandria, Egypt, in 1995 and neurology residency and neuro-ophthalmology fellowship both at Virginia Commonwealth University. He is board-certified in Neurology.

He sees people with MS and other neurologic-related vision issues both in the Departments of Neurology and Ophthalmology.

Zongqi Xia, MD, PhD

Dr. Xia is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and has joined our department as of January 1, 2016. After receiving his B.A. from Swarthmore College and M.D. and Ph.D. through the Medical Scientist Training Program at Case Western Reserve University, he completed: (1) neurology residency at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Massachusetts General Hospital, (2) master in clinical investigation at the Harvard Medical School, and (3) post-doctoral fellowship in neurogenetics and neuroinflammation at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Broad Institute.

Dr. Xia is a board-certified neurologist and an attending physician. He has developed an interdisciplinary clinical expertise in neuorinflammation, addressing the unmet needs of patients who face neurological complications from autoimmune disorders.

Dr. Xia leads a collaborative clinical and translational research program in neuroinflammation. His team harnesses multi-dimensional patient-derived data and deploys integrative computational and analytical approaches to gain insights into the disease process and translate these findings into the clinical arena to improve individualized prediction, prevention, and management in multiple sclerosis and other disorders of neuroinflammation. He will soon be inviting patients to join many of his research studies.

Ryan Orie, MPAS, PA-C

Ryan is a Physician Assistant in the division for Drs. Heyman and Zaydan. He received his undergraduate degree from Duquesne University and his Master of Physician Assistant Studies degree from Chatham University. He provides care for patients with MS and related diseases of the central nervous system in the outpatient clinical setting.

He became interested in MS because of the vast array of symptomatology and the complex treatment involved as well as the continuing research of chronic treatment. He has attended meetings and conducted lectures for patients with MS. He is also a member of the Pennsylvania Society of Physician Assistants.

Lauren Tankesley, MPAS, PA-C

Lauren is a Physician Assistant in the division for Drs. Heyman and Zaydan. She received her Biochemistry undergraduate degree from Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, GA, and her Master of Physician Assistant Studies from Chatham University in Pittsburgh. Although new to the practice, she does have experience in the neurology field.

Lauren’s interest in neurology lies in the complex manifestation of patient’s symptoms, and she has a desire to improve quality of life for those affected by multiple sclerosis. She has an interest in research and development of methods to improve quality of life, and she desires to help patients become their own advocate. She is a member of the American Academy of Physician Assistants and the Pennsylvania Academy of Physician Assistants.

Jennifer Bajek, MPAS, PA-C, RD

Jennifer is a Physician Assistant in the division for Drs. Heyman and Zaydan. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of Pittsburgh in Clinical Dietetics and Nutrition and completed her dietetic internship at the Cleveland Clinic to become a Registered Dietitian. She received her Master of Physician Assistant Studies degree from Chatham University.

Jennifer became captivated by the complexity of neurology during her clinical rotations. She was drawn to MS because of its multifaceted symptomatology that can vary from patient to patient as well as its continuously developing treatments. She is also a member of the Pennsylvania Society of Physician Assistants.

Margie O’Leary, RN, MSN, MSCN

Margie is a certified MS nurse and supervisor of our MS program. She has more than 25 years of experience with care of MS patients with both neurological and urological issues.

She is a past board member of the International Organization of MS Nurses (IOMSN) and an author of many journal articles and abstracts. Margie enjoys writing in her spare time as well as bicycle riding with her family. She is always willing to come and speak at a National MS Support group meeting. Just ask!

Darlene M. Punjack, RMA

Darlene is from Pittsburgh. She is the Clinical Research Associate for the MS Division of UPMC’s Department of Neurology. She has been with the Department of Neurology since 2005.

 

Kerry Oddis, RN

Kerry is from Lower Burrell, PA. She is the Clinical Research Coordinator for the MS division. Kerry worked in Labor and Delivery for 11 years and has been with the department of Neurology since 2005.

Although she loves Labor and Delivery, she gets great satisfaction working in research. She is gratified by helping patients who suffer with this terrible disease and hopes we can someday find a cure.

Victoria Young, BSN, RN, MSCN

Victoria has been with the Department of Neurology since 2008 and came to the infusion center in 2011. She is proud to be associated with the doctors, fellow nurses, and staff members of the MS Center. She likes the daily patient care here as well as the group participation in MS Society activities such as our "Going to the Dogs" team for Walk MS and the "MS Women on the Move" luncheon.

Away from the infusion center, she and her husband enjoy traveling and college football and basketball, especially for her alma mater, the Pitt Panthers. At home, Vicki’s role as "Cat-Mom" to her sizable shelter cat, Aida, provides entertainment and relaxation after a “rare” hectic day in the infusion center.

​Jordana Grodek, RN, BSN

Jordana is a registered nurse working with UPMC System Nursing Resources. Through this resource pool, she has worked with a variety of specialties including gastroenterology, sports medicine, nephrology, pediatric surgery, wound care, neurosurgery, hepatology, and nuclear cardiology. She provided assistance in the Infusion Center in 2015 and is happy to return. She graduated from Lorain County Community College in 2008 and received her BSN through Ohio University in 2011. She received her certificate in American Sign Language in 2015 from Community College of Allegheny County. She is a member of the American Academy of Ambulatory Care Nursing, and was honored with UPMC’s Cameos of Caring award in 2017. Jordana enjoys spending her free time baking, traveling, and riding her fleet of vintage scooters. 

Mary Skoff, BSN, RN

Mary joined the Department of Neurology's MS Division in January 2014. She was excited to be joining and working with a caring and passionate team of health professionals. She really enjoys working with patients in both the infusion setting and via phone contact. In her off time, she enjoys time with family and is addicted to running.

Ardrena Hill

Ardrena is from Pittsburgh. She has been with the Department of Neurology since June 2011 as a Patient Information Coordinator. While she enjoyed being at the front desk and interacting with patients, she transferred to the MS Division in October 2014 as a Surgical Scheduler, responsible for completing prior authorizations for medications such as Tecfidera, Avonex, Ampyra, Tysabri, and Provigil.

Ann Caputo-Dunlap, BSN, RN

Ann relocated to the Pittsburgh area in 2003. She graduated in 2007 from CCAC South campus nursing program. She has experience with in-patient floor nursing and emergency room nursing. Ann lives in the South Hills with her husband and big family of 4 kids and 3 dogs. When she is not at working at the fast paced infusion center, she keeps busy with her kids and with school and sports. She and her family enjoy the outdoors, going to the movies, and time with family and friends.

Sandra Palmieri

Sandy is from right here in Oakland. In fact, her family still lives here. She has been with UPMC for thirty years and has worked for twenty years in the Voice Center. She started full time with the Department of Neurology in early August 2015. She enjoys anything “Italian”, cooking, and gardening.

Jenna Szypulski

Jenna is an Administrative Assistant for the Department of Neurology. She graduated from the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg in 2012. When she is not in the office, you can find Jenna walking homeless dogs for a local shelter.

 

Nicole Myers

Nicole is a clinical research assistant for Dr. Zongqi Xia. She has been a basic science research specialist at the University of Pittsburgh for 12 years with positions at the Schools of Public Health, Medicine, and Dental Medicine. She is interested in translational research and is currently attending nursing school.

Kelsey Michenko

Kelsey is a clinical research assistant working in Dr. Xia’s lab. She graduated with her B.A. in Biology from Franklin and Marshall College.

 

 

Melina Badanich, RN, BS

Melina lives in Munhall, PA. She graduated from Shadyside School of Nursing in 2011 and was nomiated for UPMC's  "Rookie of the Year Award" in 2012. She has 6 years of experience within in-patient oncology medical/surgical and out-patient chemotherapy infusions. She enjoys infusion nursing and is excited to expand her nursing career into the field of MS care. Melina enjoys camping, cooking, and singing way too enthusiastically at local karaoke nights.

Kathleen Brandfass, PT, MS

Kathleen is Director of Neurologic and Vestibular Outpatient Services for Centers for Rehab Services (CRS) and an adjunct instructor in the neuromuscular course series at the University of Pittsburgh. She earned a BS degree in physical therapy (PT) from the University of Wisconsin and an MS in neurologic PT from the University of Pittsburgh. She is an affiliate member of the American Academy of Neurology and a member for the NMSS regional Clinical Advisory Committee.

She has served on the Edge Task Force for outcomes in MS. Her practice focus includes Parkinson's disease, MS, ALS, stroke, and peripheral neuropathy. Ms. Brandfass has treated people with neurologic disorders for many years and has lectured nationally. She received the Excellence in Neurology award from the Pennsylvania Physical Therapy Association.